Ruminations on Romero’s THE AMUSEMENT PARK
I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not even close to knowing much about the late George Romero’s films, and in fact, I’m not even a fan of his work—mostly (I know, understand, and can appreciate its brilliance, and I think he was a genius. Zombies are just not my thing). He has, however, thanks to Night of the Living Dead, become synonymous with a specific brand of horror, so fan expectations are set.
I just watched George Romero’s gorgeously restored lost gem, 1975’s The Amusement Park, which has been available as a Shudder exclusive for a while now. In my opinion, this is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen; if you enjoy the work my magazine, 34 Orchard, publishes, then you will definitely be into this—this is profound, visceral, disturbing, real-world, inevitable horror.
I will keep this all spoiler-free, so if you plan on watching this, don’t be afraid to read further.
Shot in just three days at a now-defunct Pennsylvania amusement park, a recent expert panel discussion (info on where to see this below) placed this in the genre category of “Industrial PSA”—a film usually intended for educational or training purposes—simply because of its original intent and usage. It was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania and was meant to put the spotlight on the issues facing the elderly, but eventually, it just disappeared.
That said, the panel agreed—as do I—that this is way beyond most industrial PSAs; I’d put it up there, in terms of terror, with Another Man’s Family (which was about fire safety and showed children dying due to unsafe fire practices in the home; I saw that in school when I was 11).
Technically, some of the acting in The Amusement Park is not great, and the story itself is a little heavy-handed and a shot bizarre (but not confusing). But it is also heartbreaking—as well as thought provoking. This is real-life horror that will happen to those of us who don’t die young—and that makes it profoundly sobering, if not disturbing.
The film takes us through the trials an elderly person must face in every day life, rendered in metaphor and compared to a day at an amusement park. What’s uncanny about it is its ability to transcend from “movie” to “experience.” Although it only has an approximate 53 minute running time, I lived the POV character’s trauma with him; I was getting emotionally pummeled, and that made it seem like a lot longer than less than an hour. I truly felt like I’d watched a three hour film by the time it was done. This isn’t a criticism—meaning, I’m not saying this movie is slow or boring or drags. What this movie does is drag you through what an endless, sad, upsetting day must feel like—something that might actually happen to those of us when we are elderly. I was absolutely shaken up and exhausted by the time I was done watching this.
I recommend this, but only if you want something that’s existential and meaty, and only when you can give it your full attention; this is, by no means, a ‘popcorn’ or ‘let’s put this on in the background’ or ‘thrill junkie’ film. This is a fine example of the importance of art in the world: it changed my perspective, and it might just change yours, too.
Where to Check it Out
As far as I know, The Amusement Park is, for the moment, only available on Shudder. If you don’t have an account, visit SHUDDER | Stream Horror, Thrillers, and Suspense Ad-Free and Uncut (you can usually get a free seven-day trial).
In addition, the network’s programming director, Sam Zimmerman, hosted an extremely interesting panel on this lost film’s release and its importance, as well as a partial analysis, here: Reviving Romero’s THE AMUSEMENT PARK | A Panel Conversation.
Posted on January 16, 2022, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, Horror Movies, Reviews and tagged #TheAmusementPark, Daniel Kraus, educational films, Fangoria, George Romero’s early films, Indie Collect, industrial PSAs, lost films of great directors, movies that look at the dark side of aging, Phil Nobile Jr, Sam Zimmerman, Sandra Schulberg, Shudder, Shudder exclusives, Suzanne Romero, Tananarive Due, The Living Dead. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
It sounds excellent, maybe like Carnival of Souls (which I loved) but with a bigger budget.
Ha! I think there was a teeny budget for this. It’s really very disturbing. I do recommend it. It’s definitely in the 34 ORCHARD wheelhouse if we were a film festival instead of a magazine, I’ll say that!